It goes without saying that participating in a sport helps hone a child’s various skills. Aside from the health benefits, playing sports teaches time management, being a team member, and responsibility.
But what happens when you see talent emerging from your child at a young age? What should you do to best cultivate that talent?
Sports specialization for children
For many parents and coaches, the immediate answer is to encourage the child toward specializing in one sport. Sports specialization—or playing one sport all year round—means an increased amount of time practicing and competing.
The way of thinking is that the more a child practices a sport, the better at it they will get. If everything works out, the child will achieve great success.
Sports specialization is common for sports that require athletes to start at a young age. Figure skaters and hockey players often start skating lessons as early as three years old.
Running the risk of injuries and burnout
But is sports specialization at a young age suitable for your child, overall?
The amount of practice can overwhelm a young athlete and can lead to injuries, such as:
- ACL injury: A pop in the knee causes swelling, instability in movement, and pain when bearing weight.
- Little League elbow: Repeated throwing causes a strong pull on the ligaments and tendons in the elbow, causing pain and restricted motion.
Mental and emotional burnout is also a huge problem among young athletes. The child feels like quitting or doesn’t enjoy a sport because it feels like a job. They might also miss out on bonding with friends and enjoying activities outside their sport.
The financial impact of sports specialization
Sports specialization affects not only the young athlete but their family as well. For better chances of success, some parents spend on the best resources for their child—from their own Stalker baseball radar gun to a renovated basketball court in the backyard.
Coaching fees, equipment, and travel costs can add up quickly and place a financial burden on the family. Some parents may end up prioritizing their child’s sport over other necessities and commitments.
Making healthy choices about sports
Sports psychologists recommend that children should try multiple sports at an early age. Children should have three-month blocks each year when they participate in any activity other than their specialized sport.
Children can start specializing on one sport when they reach 12 years old. This is the age when sports organizations start strict selection processes, competitive games, and frequent, demanding practices. By this time, the child has already developed a passion for a specific sport, as well as matured emotionally and physically.
Sports psychologists also recommend giving children time to recover, both physically and mentally. Parents should make it a habit to let the child take the weekends to spend time with friends instead of always being in a heavily structured sports environment.
Specialization is not always harmful because it helps a young athlete develop their potential in a sport. But, the primary focus of parents is to pay attention to their child’s physical and emotional well-being. By letting the child have fun while learning lifelong physical skills, they are more capable of deciding if starting young at a sport is suited for them.